Thursday, February 25, 2010

sugared up

My eternal gratitude to Smashed Peas and Carrots, who gave Secondo and I a mission for the day: Twix fake-out bars.

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They were delicious, but very very sweet -- a side of milk is pretty much required. And I was definitely questioning the wisdom of giving so much sugar to boys who were cooped up in the house all day.

Which begs the question: what are we going to do tomorrow? Because the superintendent has already called a delayed opening, and from where I sit, those weather maps aren't looking good.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

you have GOT to be kidding me

More snow? Is such a thing even possible? We just caught sight of our grass for the first time in weeks!

The kids have a delayed opening (at least) for school tomorrow, but are doing anything but celebrating. Instead, they are cringing and whinging at the thought of all the shoveling that must be done. Again. At this rate, they're all going to move to Arizona -- but perhaps not Flagstaff -- as soon as they are emancipated.

During the last snowstorm, as we were clearing off the ramp into my LSH's office at 8 pm for the third time that day, Primo was grumbling about how much he hated snow and shoveling, and just where were his younger brothers hiding to avoid the work yet again? And then he asked me, "Why are we shoveling? Why don't you just start up the snowblower?"

I pointed out that we don't OWN a snowblower, though I am asking for one for my birthday (which will guarantee that we never see this much snow again).

He groaned, "You mean that was just a dream?'

Yep. And you know that things are pretty pathetic when you are dreaming about snowblower acquisition at fourteen years of age.


Snow fort built during the last snowstorm
(I think; I'm losing track at this point)

Monday, February 22, 2010

my campaign

Our kitchen is a large farmhouse kitchen, which is wonderful for group breakfast on shearing day, large family get-togethers, 4-H meetings, etc. It is not so great when you need to replace all the countertops, but that story has already been covered. One of the more unusual things about our kitchen is the fact that it has not one, but two cooktops, as illustrated in this photo:


The centrally-located cooktop, in a more traditional position near the fridge and sink, is electric. For some reason, our kitchen also has a gas cooktop, which is marooned on a little bump-out (is that the technical kitchen term?) near the desk. I have no idea why we have an electric and a gas cooktop. When we moved in, the house also had an oil furnace (for the downstairs) and a gas furnace (for the upstairs). It reminded me of my family's kitchen when we lived in London: the cooktop, circa mid-70s, had two electric burners and two gas burners so you could cook on it no matter who was on strike at the moment. I am not aware of such issues in central NJ in the late 80s, but who knows. We were stuck with the oddity for the last eight years, but I found two circumstances where six burners came in handy:

  1. canning tomatoes; and
  2. dyeing wool.

For the latter, the wool experiments could be conducted at a safe distance from where we usually do our cooking, on burners that were not needed on an ongoing basis. Apart from having to haul the cookpots up and down the stairs to my extra washer (another story!), it was a great set-up.

But like all good things, it is coming to an end.

I will be the first to admit that the extra burners are in a really awkward spot in the kitchen, and once we invest in new countertops, they, along with the Nutone built-in blender, should be history. Except... where will I do my dyeing? My BFF came up with a brilliant idea: I need my own range down in the basement. No need to haul pots up and down the stairs. No need to worry about the mess and smell of dyeing. My father further refined the thought: when they take out the electrical cord for the present everyday cooktop (because it will be converted to gas), don't have them cap it off. Drop it directly into the basement, in a spot conveniently below the current cooktop, and plug in a second-hand cheapy range there. It would be right next to the sink and washer: perfect!

Except my LSH is not yet convinced of the wisdom of this plan. And that's where my campaign comes in.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

decisions, decisions

We are in an odd situation at the moment, where everything in our house seems to be giving up the ghost at the exact same moment. The couches have suffered an excess of attention from a teething puppy and children who insist on sitting on the armrests and eating while playing video games. The electric cooktop has thrown in the towel after being taken apart one too many times by our zealous cleaning lady. (Despite her best efforts, she barely makes a dent in the filth around here, but at least I enjoy a clean house for 45 minutes every other week, before the boys get home and start to systematically dismantle it again.) The countertop... well, it is pink, and the wrong dimensions for the new cooktop. And on and on right now, it seems.

Unfortunately, this means that we must shop for replacements, and this is where I start to break out in hives. Truly, with the exception of yarn, I would sooner stick red hot needles in my eyes than waste a perfectly good afternoon traipsing around some sort of store trying to make decisions about what I like and don't like. Because it turns out, I really don't have strong feelings either way, which makes the entire process even more torturous. Should I have an opinion about whether the countertop edge is bullnose or beveled? Does it matter in some secret way that I would know more about, if only I could bring myself to watch more shows on HGTV? I have already decided this means that we can never build a house from scratch. The amount of shopping and decision-making that would entail would put me in a strait-jacket in no time flat.

I know this is unnatural. I strongly suspect my LSH's family thinks I am a freak of nature. During the most recent trip looking for a family room couch, it hit me that they're probably right: I have assumed the role of a stereotypical husband when we are out shopping. I find myself uttering phrases such as "I dunno, aren't all browns the same?" and "do we really have to go to another furniture store? can't we just pick this one and be done with it?" The only strongly-held opinion I have is the more indestructible an item is, the better.

I tried to convince my LSH that he should be grateful that I am so content with the things that are already in our house. He'll never have to hear me say something like "oh, I hate these countertops and we have to do something about the kitchen right now." Truth is, if it isn't falling down on my feet in really big chunks, then I can probably put up with it for a good while longer. He countered that this only shows my complete indifference, and he's probably correct. Anything to avoid shopping for a replacement.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

in other news

I also managed to finish my February sweater over the weekend:


OK, it is a baby sweater, but it still counts. I made it as a shop sample for Pleasant Run Peddlers, to showcase the yarn (Brown Sheep Serendipity Tweed, again for those who care). It worked, too: I stopped in on Saturday to show the store owner, Linda, my progress and someone immediately bought two skeins of the yarn to make the same sweater. I love, love, love this yarn, a cotton/wool blend, especially the way it worked up in all its tweedy goodness. I may have to make myself a sweater out of it, if I can find just the right pattern.

My apologies for the completely unimaginative and uninspiring pictures of my knitting. I try, I really do. But my camera (let's blame the camera, shall we?) always makes the right quarter of the frame out of focus. And it is absolutely pathetic at close-up shots. I spent the better part of thirty minutes trying to document the cuteness and perfect-matchingness of the Peter Rabbit buttons I found for the sweater. Here's my best result:

bad button

Yes, it does indeed appear that Peter is missing his right arm while shoving a carrot up his nose. You'll have to take my word for it (or stop by the shop yourself to see it in person) that the real buttons are considerably more charming than my camera would have you believe.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Back in my Christmas gift madness, I had hit upon the idea of making matching hat and cowl/scarf sets for several giftees. Of course I ran out of time before I could do both, and the recipients had to make do with just the cowls. But late last week I managed to finish the matching hat for my mom's cowl. To refresh your memory, my mom and her cowl look like this:


The matching hat (Star-Crossed Slouchy Beret, for those of you who care):


At least I think it matches. Hopefully she will look like all the hip-happenin' girls with when she makes her weekly trek into NYC. If she doesn't like it, then she can give it back and I can use it as a yarn sample. It's a win-win situation.

This should have been a very quick and easy knit, and it was, until I reached the decreases. For some reason, I kept making bone-head mistakes, forcing me to rip back my knitting over and over. At one point, as I was ripping it out yet again and lamenting over my bone-head-ed-ness, Terzo said "Doesn't it have destructions? Why don't you just follow them?"

And of course he was absolutely correct.

Friday, February 12, 2010

quiet time

One of my friends was stopping by this morning to take a look at the finished sheepskins (darn! I just realized that I failed to get a picture of the "after" for the blog, since you were forced to suffer through the "before"). I wanted to make sure I didn't miss her at the front door -- a common occurrence when I am working out in my LSH's office -- so I plunked myself down in the living room with my latest project and a cup of coffee. The dogs soon settled with me... the clock was ticking softly... and that was the only sound to be heard, apart from the click of the needles.

The view to my left: Charlie resting in the warmth of the sun...


The view to the right: Dusty, my constant shadow...


A perfectly lovely way to spend half of an hour, in perfectly delightful company.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

snow clearing

One of the great things about working out of your home is the commute. One of the not-so-great things is trying to clear the parking lot before office hours start so patients can get in. We gave up at 8 pm last night... and my LSH and the boys were at it again early this morning. I left them to their task and headed to the back to feed the animals.


My first step off the driveway and I realized that I wasn't in for a pleasant stroll through the crisp new fallen snow this morning. Nope, I was wishing for snow shoes the instant I punched through the rock-hard top layer and felt the snow come over the top of my winter chore boots, which are 16 inches high. Working my way through that much snow became very hard work before I had gone ten feet.


I was hoping the dog would help me out this morning, but he was having just as much trouble as I, if not more so, as the snow was above the bottom of his belly.


He quickly allowed me to take the lead and followed along at my heels. That's OK, I reasoned, because when I got to the sheep pen, at least they would help me out by clearing a path for me from the shed to the gate. A very narrow path, but a path nonetheless.


I climbed over the gate (impossible to open this morning without shoveling first!), located the feed pans (the photo above illustrates the art of finding a feed pan in the snow; can you see it?), emptied out the snow and refilled them with grain and...


Nothing. The ewes stood just inside the shed, looking at me, but refusing to take one step into the snow. I rattled the grain pans and bucket, I called them, but no dice. Swearing under my breath and getting colder by the minute, I gave up and hiked to the shed to give them their hay. At least they would have a path broken for their tender little hooves.

But still nothing. They looked at me, wondering why I hadn't just carried the grain up to them since I was coming that way anyway... I felt sorry for them and their pregnant bellies... and I led them back to the food. Animals at my heels was the theme of the morning.


I figured I had better clear a path for them to the watering trough while I was at it as they obviously hadn't been in some time. (The bucket is the black speck all the way in the top corner of the pasture; yesterday's path to the bucket is faintly visible.)


If you are thinking right about now that we are torturing pregnant sheep by making them walk all that way for food and water, forcing encouraging them move around is actually much better for them and their unborn lambs. For whatever reason, there are many fewer abnormal birth presentations when ewes get exercise while they are pregnant. I will do anything to avoid abnormal presentations, including breaking paths in the snow for wimpy sheep.

I know the sheep would have made their way to the water eventually, because it seems nothing is thirstier than a pregnant ewe, but I had to check the water level anyway. It was a little low, and I started to despair about hauling water through all that snow, but then it dawned on me that Mother Nature had supplied plenty of water right around the tub, albeit in crystalized form. I killed two birds with one stone: cleared more ground for the sheep and filled the trough to the brim, leaving the rest of the task up to the water heater.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

snow problem

Owning livestock adds just a little bit of work to our lives on a normal basis... but when the weather gets rough, it adds just that much more. The only mercy is that we are not lambing right now, because those 2 am barn checks would be a real pain in this snow. As it is, we just have to trek back once a day to feed and check on everyone, and Dusty is always happy to blaze the trail for me.

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Here come the girls... single file only, please.

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I had a bit of a rough time locating the feed pans this morning. Usually I can use my zen-like sense of slight disturbance under an otherwise pristine layer of snow. But this morning's blast of rain on top of last night's snow made everything uneven. I had to resort to leading the (very frustrated) girls around behind me in ever-widening circles while I carried the grain bucket until I eventually heard the clunk of hoof on plastic. Bingo!

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The chickens must have had some sort of sixth-chicken sense of just what a pain in the neck it was (especially when the all the wet mushy snow on the roof of their coop slid onto my head). Both decided to make it worth my while today.


Monday, February 8, 2010

what's in a name

I have spent many, many hours recently doing filing for my LSH's office, and it is quite interesting the way names are so indicative of a generation. If I see "Jane" or "Mary", for example, I know that the person is going to be of a certain age. "Ashley/Ashleigh", on the other hand, is in her late teens; "Katelyn/Caitlin" is probably around Primo's age; and "Kyley/Caylie" is definitely in Terzo's class (as a matter of fact, he has two in his classroom). Of course there are exceptions to these generalizations, which add the occassional note of interest to an otherwise dull-as-dishwater task, but it is pretty interesting how they break more or less rigidly along generational lines.

When my eyes start to cross, I head over to "Baby's Named a Bad Bad Thing" for some comic relief. This blogger lurks on baby-naming boards and has used actual submissions to launch a one-woman campaign against the overuse of the letter "Y" (Krystyl, Trystyn), made-up names (Aemelozina (but they'll call her Molly!), Oleo, Zavary, Kakinston) and too many middle names (Hunter Maverick Maarten, Xev Chiana Louise). From my time spent on similar websites when I was pregnant with Secondo and stuck on bedrest with too much time on my hands, I can vouch for the authentic ring of 99% of these posts, unfortunately for the poor children.

I highly recommend reading a few of her entries if you have had a bad day, especially at the hands of someone named Mackenzie. One entry:

Submission to board: As a person of Scottish descent, I am just curious - are all you ladies naming your daughters Mackenzie (or Mykenzie, or Makenzy, etc) out of some loyalty to Scotland? Or perhaps just a love for haggis? Just curious.

Reply from blogger: Do you honestly think someone naming their daughter Makenzy could find Scotland on a map?

Or another:

Submisssion to board: I'm thinking about naming my baby "Zannia Amari Smith", but whenever I tell people other than my family they just look at me and say "thats different".

Reply from blogger: I guess people are put off by weird names like Smith.

Or yet another (because it was a long day filing!):

Submission to board: I am not pregnant yet but thinking about names...I just thought of the name Lourdes Solange. This baby will be 75% latina and 15% european :)

Reply from blogger: ...and 10% polyester.

But this one has got to be a joke.

Submission to board: How about Lou? When I was in England, I heard that name and it seemed to have a little tinkle to it. Randy is good too.

The juxtaposition of "lou" and "tinkle" cannot be an accident. But given all the time I spend in adolescent and pre-adolescent boy company -- not to mention filing all those papers -- of course I found this absolutely hilarious. I need to get back to knitting.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

scenes from a snowy day

I am too pooped to come up with captions. We shoveled, we plowed, we shoveled, then we plowed some more. There are no pictures of Secondo because he was the hero who waded through snowdrifts to feed the animals in the back.

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Now I am off to take a much-needed bath.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

land rant

(As the title mentions, this is somewhat of a rant. You can opt out and come back in a few days for another scintillating crazy knitting story if you so choose. But I am ready to bust and I have to get this off my chest.)

I live in NJ. Although its nickname is the Garden State, borne out of years of truck farming for the NYC and Philadelphia metropolises, that moniker seems more and more out of place as the years go by. Now, the most numerous thing that New Jersey grows is houses: the bigger, more ostentatious, more difficult to heat and wasteful of land, the better. Everyone, it seems, wants to live in a faux castle these days, and the developers are more than happy to meet the demand. House after house goes up, with pillars and stonework in the front and absolutely no charm in the back. After all, it's impressions that count in this game. Go inside the houses -- and as a high school tutor, I have been in many -- and you will be shocked at how many emperors are lacking clothes. Many, many rooms are furnished with rug remnants and folding tables. But that's OK that you are living in spartan surroundings inside the house, because everyone who drives by outside is suitably impressed.

Our township is no different. I am amazed by how long this area managed to resist development, tucked away right in the center of the state as it is, but things started to shift a few years ago when zoning regulations relaxed and the negative pressure drew the developers right in. Now we have plenty of developments with sidewalks to nowhere (I just love how they gracefully curve along the road; such natural charm!) and lonely old farmhouses on the outskirts, a testament to what used to be there.

I try not to be too deprecating about these houses. If you want to buy a house and light it up like a Christmas tree 365 days of the year so that we can all see what a beautiful (in the eye of the beholder) huge house you have, well then, OK. But for the love all that is holy, do your research before you buy the blasted thing. Spend less time choosing the color of your granite countertops and more time reading the local paper or even looking out the model home's window. See those dump trucks going by, more or less constantly? It's because the main road outside your development leads to and from the local quarry. Don't move in and then make a legal case out of moving the truck route because your kids have to stand on that road to catch the bus. Surprised by that fact? Ask anyone in the township, and they'll tell you, the school buses don't go into the developments. Ever. And I am as shocked as you are (not) that the developer failed to tell you that fact. Heck, if you had looked at the pathetic road (or perhaps I should say "lane" or "court") that they were paving in front of your house, you would have noted that two vehicles can barely pass each other, it's so narrow; the lovely circular dead-end turnaround requires a pickup to execute a K-turn to go back out the other way. But again, that's OK, because your front lawn is that much more sweeping as a result.

Our town still manages to mount a few bulwarks against this pressure. Evidence of this fact is the proud blue sign under our school's street-side message board, which proclaims that our high school is home to a National FFA Chapter. (FFA used to stand for Future Farmers of America; it is a national agricultural education program.) Our high school is a receiving district for kids in surrounding townships who want to avail themselves of the program, which is a combination of course curriculum and club. Local kids travel to state and national competitions as part of their schoolwork; they win all sorts of honors; several have even won full-ride college scholarships as a result of their participation in the program. The local newspaper is very good about covering the competitions and honors and awards the kids garner, so between the sign and the paper, the program isn't exactly under a rock.

Part of the FFA program has come under scrutiny to be cut, due to school budget pressures. The school board meeting was packed last night with FFA members, families and alums, as well as local farmers, vets and others involved in agriculture, to protest the decision to curtail this program given the importance of farming in this community.

As the testimony went on about the amount of preserved farmland in the township and the positive impact of the program, one audience participant stood up and said dismissively, "I don't know why we are talking about this so much. I mean, what's the big deal? I've never even heard of this FFA before now."

It never fails to stun me. Why bother to move to a community if you don't want know what was there before you arrived? In fact, it actually seems that you could care less? But I guess that's the point of these brand-spanking new whitewashed developments: to provide an insulated sense of belonging to those who live there, without the bother of researching the history of where you moved, or the messiness of finding your place in a community that is already established. Much, much easier to form your own out of whole cloth, with people who are no doubt just like you since they live in houses just like yours and have the same beef with the dump trucks or the noisy dusty tractors or the spray planes or whatever else was there before you plunked yourself down in the new country.

Now enough of my nastiness, and if you happen to live in a big house, don't take this personally. I live in a glass house myself. Don't we all?

Monday, February 1, 2010

third time's a charm

As you may remember, one of my resolutions was to finally knit a sweater for myself. I decided that I needed a little help to keep me on task with this resolution, so I joined a group on Ravelry whose members had the goal of knitting one sweater per month in 2010. With a group like that, I figured odds were good that I would get at least one sweater done. I am nothing if not an overachiever in the crazy department.

So I continued to work on my Vine Lace Cardigan, which I did end up taking with me to New Orleans. Progress was good; I was all the way down the first sleeve; then I noticed that I was missing some stitches. I assumed that was the reason the sleeve was a little tight on my chubby muscular upper arm. Rats. I ripped back, added the necessary stitches, re-knit the sleeve, and tried it on. Still too small... and then it hit me. I pulled out a ruler to confirm it -- yep. My gauge was off. When I checked all the notes on Ravelry, I found that no one else had managed to get gauge with this sweater. (And NO, I had not done a gauge swatch, either.) In short, I, and by extension, the sweater, were screwed, because no matter what I did, this sweater was going to be too small.

Wanna know the fastest, easiest way to frog a sweater?

Use a ball winder. Fifteen or so hours of work were history in about five minutes.

That was January 19. On January 20, I decided that I would simply take a different tack, and switch to the cotton sweater that I had been working on over the summer. I won't need it for a few months yet, but at least it will be done!

I worked on that one for two days, before I realized that I didn't have enough yarn to finish the project, since I was knitting with a double strand to solve that gauge problem. The yarn has been discontinued; I did find someone willing to part with it, but she couldn't ship it until this week. Beggars with half-finished sweaters cannot be ungrateful complainers, so now that sweater was out.

I stewed for a few days. People on the sweater-a-month group urged me not to give up. I had pretty much put myself on the bi-monthly sweater plan.

Then a sweater pattern kept bubbling to the forefront of my attention. In various guises and ways, the Shalom Cardigan appeared over and over again. I took a second and third and fourth look; I read every modification made to the pattern BEFORE I started (as the original one was written for a six foot tall person with a 32" bust, a far cry from my own dimensions); and on January 26 I picked up the yarn I needed from my LYS and cast on. And knit and knit and knit for the next five days, hence the lack of blog posts. I didn't even list the project in my Ravelry notebook, for fear that I would jinx myself yet again.

But I finished on January 31. I was greatly assisted by the fact that this pattern does not have any seaming, or even sleeves for that matter, just buttons to sew on and ends to weave in.

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I redid the bottom garter stitch band today to make it hang more evenly, and washed and blocked it. It's drying now; I'll post less blurry pictures once it's done. In the meantime, I am going to get some sleep, and think about my February sweater.